The Grand Piano
I moved to Los Angeles five years ago. In that time I intuitively built a fondness for LACMA with its sprawling campus and its encyclopedic approach to art and art history. This affinity is probably directly related to my early allegiance with the Metropolitan Museum in NYC. I was a latch key kid before the term was coined so the Met was a home away from home. My mother purchased a membership for me so that I could come and go at my whim. And no matter how many times I go and how familiar I am with the labyrinth of galleries, I can still be surprised. I feel much the same about LACMA here in Los Angeles.
With the arrival of Michael Govan in 2006 I knew the institution was in good and ambitious hands. These memories of the Met were brought back at the opening press preview of the new Resnick Pavillion, the newest of the multitude of architectural jewels that house and highlight the collection at LACMA. It’s an impressive structure and one that I belive will be used wisely in the future. The architect in question is Renzo Piano who cuts a fine professorial figure at the podium while his accent indexes Roberto Begnini. Piano’s use of natural light, guided by the grid-like placement of the campus on Wilshire just east of Fairfax, is pitch perfect. Even the restrooms are bathed in the reflected glow of southern California’s greatest resource. It’s bears mentioning that the light here is one of the reasons that the film industry set up shop in LA. I mean 277 days of Sunshine on average every year is devastatingly great.
Hollywood and the film industry provides a nifty little metaphor for the building. Much like the cavernous sound stages built on studio lots, this building is a shell for narrative exploration. And as a shell for limitless potential the new building is a marvel. Its scale is impressive without being portentous. The entrance is inviting, spooned as it is next to BCAM, another Piano invention dedicated to contemporary art. The rear of the building is faced in windows that look out to what could be considered the back yard. Plans for a Michael Heizer earth art intervention are in the works apparently. I think the building is beautiful, inside and out, and thoroughly functional. Whether the current function is adept is entirely up for debate.
For its debut three distinctive different exhibitions have been mounted. The 1.2 acre single floor footprint has been divided into three quantitatively equal parts. The western third contains an exhibition titled Eye for the Sensual. The show highlights selections from the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Collection whose largess of 55 million made the building possible. Really nice examples of Fragonard and Boucher are off set by some excellent art deco furniture, all presented in rooms that seem to mimic the old Getty Villa on PCH. The middle section is the show case of Olmec Masterworks of Ancient Mexico. And the Eastern third is an exhibition titled Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915. The latter acts as a literal trunk show with the mannequins walking out of their gray painted crates.
If my descriptions of the exhibitions are threadbare, then so be it. My interest is in the building, its potential and the avenues it opens for the future. The building is a success, its potential is possibly limitless. Govan and future stewards of the institution will have to choose between diplomatic gestures to board members and the community at large and bold statements at the service of art and art history. Is a neat trifurcation of the enormous space the best use for the future? No, but as an inclusive gesture to introduce the building it was and is the right thing to do! Several months ago when the building was completed, Govan installed a heroic work by Walter de Maria made of 2000 octagonal segments painted white. He did this in his own words as a “test run for the new building.” Laid on the floor in ziggurat patternation the piece dialoged with the empty shell of the building, its purity, its intoxicating light. It also afforded the monumental piece of conceptual sculpture a pedestal commensurate with De Maria’s ambition. With my nose pressed against the glass doors of the inaccessible and unvernisagged space, I saw this several months ago when I visited the John Baldessari retrospective at the adjacent BCAM which recently opened at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC. It was a revelation, even without having the opportunity to actually enter the space. It was so effective that thankfully installation photos of this gossamer event were even included in the press packet!
And so I leave you with this little creative tidbit inspired by my dear friend in Texas who reminded me recently of the quixotic fun of the old surrealist game of Exquisite Corpse. I, of course, am the author of the fusion of the triumvirate of images that make this figure up but the elements come from the trio of exhibitions currently on view at the new Resnick Pavillion. Head: The Virgin With Host by Ingres, 1860, Oil on Canvas Body: A Pair of Sleeve Plumpers from England Circa 1830-35, Linen with down fill. Legs: anthropomorphic Jaguar Figure, Chiapas, Tuxtla Chico, 600-300 BC, Basalt. I think it actually captures the cross-fertilization that Michael Govan is obviously after.
–Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, October 10th, 2010
All Photos by Alex Vertikoff courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and used with gracious permission.